Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whither Warfield? Into the arms of Darwin!

[Editor's note: I see that this piece by Mathison is from March 2010. I have only just now become aware of it.]

Keith Mathison has posted a piece at Ligonier Ministries discussing the relationship between science and Scripture and advocating a return to the old Princetonian principle of Hodge, Hodge and Warfield; namely, that science and Scripture, when each is properly interpreted, will be in agreement, and therefore the Christian has nothing to fear from science for it can never properly overturn his faith. Thus far, I am in agreement. Dr Mathison writes:

They [the old Princetonians] agreed that when science and Scripture appear to contradict each other, either the scientific interpretation of God’s creation is in error or the Christian interpretation of Scripture is in error, or both are in error.
Yes, this is true; however, I would note three things, one hermeneutical, two historical:

First: the proper method of biblical interpretation is to find other passages of Scripture which speak clearly about the same topic and use those passages to interpret the passage in question. Or, as the Westminster Confession (1.9) states: "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."

I see no room for "science" to "help" in our interpretation of Scripture according to the Confession. As a matter of fact, introducing the findings of science (so called) to help us interpret any passage elevates science to the level of Scripture and places it in judgment over God's Word. This is a very dangerous position to take. Applied to the age of the earth, we ought to conclude that if we are uncertain what the days of Genesis 1 are (actual days or long ages or just some sort of literary device to communicate that God created), the proper way of determining the meaning of Genesis 1 is to look to other sections of Scripture that speak to the days of Creation or the age of the earth (Exodus 20:11, for example). It is improper to ask "what does science say about the interpretation of Genesis 1?" because that introduces something from outside Scripture into the interpretation of Scripture.

Second, a historical point: geocentricism is flaunted about by anyone who wants to use science to interpret Scripture. But, the historical nuance of the Galilean affair is lost on many of those who do so (I do not accuse Dr. Mathison of such carelessness, but I have seen geocentricism pop up too many times in discussions on the age of the earth) . Briefly stated, geocentricism was not a theological position based on Scripture, but a philosophical position (Aristotelianism) forced onto the text. Can we say the same about a young age of the earth? Or does Scripture speak clearly to the antiquity of creation? To place those who hold to a young earth in the same category as those who defended geocentricism is bad history and fallacious.

Third: I can only assume that Mathison, being a well-educated Presbyterian minister, is familiar with the fact that Warfield allowed for the possibility of theistic evolution. Warfield, believing that there was no conflict between science and Scripture (he was right) and also believing that science can be used to interpret Scripture (he was wrong) concluded that it was possible for evolution to be reconciled to the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. His method for doing so was to sacrifice the plain reading of the text in order to allow for the new science of evolution to "interpret" the text for us. Warfield wrote (Lectures on Anthrology, 1888):

I am free to say, for myself, that I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution....The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law and which does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve, etc.) will entail a great reconstruction of Christian doctrine, and a very great lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force, producing something new i.e., something not included even in posse in the preceding conditions, we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense.
I must ask: is this what Dr. Mathison wants? I sincerely hope not.

The old Princetonians were not all bad, but on the question of the relationship between science and Scripture, they failed. Once final point: Warfield was only able to come to his erroneous conclusion on evolution because Charles Hodge, who correctly rejected evolution, had compromised with the popular science of his day: geology.


  1. I would note too that W.G.T. Shedd in his "Calvinism: Pure and Mixed" makes the same capitulating accomodation.

  2. I do not think that you deal fairly with the geocentrism question. No one believed that geocentrism was forced onto the text until science came along and said that geocentrism was false. The church was very uniform in belief that the geocentristic passages meant exactly what they seem to mean with regular reading. I think the history of interpretation of such passages is even more uniform than YEC from Genesis.